Getting Around the Brick Walls

Being a new researcher is fun and many times exciting when you find that first piece of data. It can also be very disheartening when you run into what researchers call "a brick wall". It makes the new researcher feel inadequate and in some instances, causes them to stop researching because "they just can't do it".

The first thing that new researchers need to learn is that EVERYONE HAS BRICK WALLS.

I have several times in the past joked that I don't have brick walls. I have a brick "castle/fortress" with no way in. It happens to every researcher, so don't be discouraged. Learning how to get around the brick walls will help you deal with them a little better. After all, driving in rush hour traffic is a pain in the rear end; but that doesn't make you stop doing it as you need to get to work ! Don't let the brick walls impede you, just learn to "walk" around them.

In my years of researching, I have heard many different comments from several different researchers regarding their searches. However, one of the most ridiculous ones I have heard (and I hear it quite often) is:

I was working on this family line in which I descend from the son "Robert". Another researcher I am working with is also working on that same family, but they descend from daughter "Sally". They know nothing about Robert and could only give me the names of "Sally's" siblings....

Ummm.... common sense should tell someone that Sally's siblings ARE Robert's siblings too. Many researchers for some reason overlook that. OR:

Based on marriage dates, we think that Sally was older then Robert, but the other researcher can't give me any help with Robert's birth year. (Try asking them about Sally's birth year and go from there).


This is what I like to call my own type of researching. If I keep hitting that brick wall by going at my research head on or "by the front door" try the side door !

By that I mean, if you cannot find data on YOUR ancestor, find what you can on the siblings. Work through another researcher who is tracing a siblings lineage. They may have tons of data on your ancestor, which is useless to them.

Look at the spouses lineages. Sometimes surprising information can be found by searching them. Years ago, cousins married cousins; brothers frequently married into families with many daughters, so unusual connections can be found.

The best advice I can give someone in trying to get around the brick wall is to: FORGET ABOUT IT.

What?? Yes, forget about it. Make your posting to a mailing list or message board and go on with another line of research. Give it a week, maybe two weeks before checking the message board. My theory of Forget about it, is the same as the old adage of "A Watched Pot Never Boils". I have had several lines that were stagnant for some time; some for as long as 20 years! I made a post to a mailing list, went on about my business and when I least expected it some weeks later; an answer came and it was a windfall. But in forgetting about it I saved myself much stress and worry.

Brick Walls are not simply going to fall over for you. You have to keep "picking" at them from time to time and chip it away.

Don't look for that "Big Payoff" as it may never come. Take the small pieces and put them together as you can. Nobody is going to show up and say "Here, take all my research, this will take the lineage back to Adam and Eve". You are going to glean your data in bits and pieces over time.

The bad news is something that no researcher really ever wants to consider: YOU MAY NEVER FIND SOME PIECES OF THE PUZZLE.

As sad or aggravating as it may be, some ancestors you will just have to commit to "that big space out there in no man's land". You have to sometimes accept the fact that if you have the birth data and marriage data and they were born in 1757; they most likely at some point died. That may be the best you can do in some cases.

It is important though to make certain you have turned every single possible stone you can find before you consign the ancestors to the "unfindables".

Many researchers are so concerned with the "who" that they don't really spend much time on the "what" (as in document to look in) or the "how" (as in how to find data).Finding the information or "researching" is more then finding that ancestor. It is a great deal of knowing just where to look to find the data you need.

If you find that you have many questions regarding just what information you can find it which documents; please check here for complete detailing of sources.

As strange as it sounds, many times it is simply a matter of knowing just what you are searching for. Also, in figuring out just what items may help you determine the data that you really need.

If you are searching for children of an ancestor; what items can you look at to find that. You will want to check:

Census records; Wills and Probate records; marriage records; birth records; gravestones; pension files,etc.

Before beating yourself up too badly, ask yourself not "where is he" but "what documents do I need to find" or "Is there another way to find this data" (such as siblings research or spouses lineages or neighbors).